Malachi O’Doherty considers the lessons of the peace process, and ultimately concludes that the engagement of pragmatists was key to its success, from a government point of view at least:
For decades it was assumed that the Northern Ireland conflict was beyond resolution because the demands of the opposing militants were too high. Every effort that was made to secure a compromise in the political middle ground was scuppered by Paisleyism and republicanism, yet a deal became possible when each had ascended to the leadership of the community from which it sprang.
The second lesson, surely, must be one for a political militants themselves. To secure a political popularity they must not impose too great a strain on the society they claim to represent, and they must show themselves amenable to compromise. Then, usually, people will be so excited at the prospect of universal love breaking out that they will support them and encourage them. Victim societies are extraordinarily forgiving.
Another lesson for militants and state security forces: don’t kill anybody unless you really have too. Especially, do not kill the leaders of the militant groups. If you want leaders to be able to control the whole movement underneath them, then you have to leave them in place for long enough to secure credibility and influence. Don’t fragment an enemy you ultimately hope to negotiate with.
Extremes that can’t be defeated have to be included. Trust, therefore, that they will ultimately want to be included, for they will have no option anyway. Extremes are always political minorities and can only make progress by moving towards accommodating the will of the majority.